The Insight Center began building better tools to measure the economic reality facing families in California a generation ago.

We found that families living in California pay different amounts for basic household goods depending on where they live. For example, in lower-cost Fresno County, a family of two adults, one preschooler, and one school age child needs $59,967 a year to cover the cost of basic needs. But in higher-cost San Francisco County, that same family needs $76,352 a year, over $16,000 more a year, to pay for those same household expenses. Our organizing and advocacy work focuses on what it actually costs to make ends meet in communities across California, as defined by the Self Sufficiency Standard for California, a measure of the income needed to cover basic needs available for 156 different family types in each of California’s 58 counties. Unlike the official, yet outdated, federal poverty measures, the Self-Sufficiency Standard uses publicly available data sources to quantify the actual costs of meeting the basic needs for working families by county – without public or private assistance. Similarly, the Elder Economic Security Index is the only county-specific measure of the minimum income necessary to cover all of an older adult’s basic expenses—housing, food, healthcare and transportation. The California Elder Index is available for all 58 counties across the state and the City of Los Angeles. This work ultimately resulted in the Metrics Matter innovation network for national, state and local leaders promoting economic security.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard

Community groups, foundations, job training organizations and public agencies in California are using a tool that has enabled them to better help their clients and members move from poverty to economic independence: the Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard (Self-Sufficiency Standard). This measures how much income is needed for families of various compositions living in different counties to adequately meet their minimal basic needs. It is based on the costs families face on a daily basis – housing, food, child care, out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation and other necessary spending.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard provides a more complete picture of what it takes for families to make ends meet in contrast to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). By using the Self-Sufficiency Standard, we can see that the number of families struggling to make ends meet is actually larger than commonly recognized. As a result, those families’ needs are rarely recognized by public agencies that use
traditional measures of poverty. Read more here…

Elder Economic Security Index

The California Elder Economic Security Index (Elder Index) is the only county-specific measure of the minimum income necessary to cover all of a retired older adults (65+ years) basic expenses – housing, food, healthcare, and transportation. The Elder Index is calculated using credible, publicly available data for each of California’s 58 counties and the City of Los Angeles. Read more here…

Metrics Matter

Through greater collaboration, peer learning, and shared frameworks, Metrics Matter increases the knowledge and impact of national and state organizations and coalitions focused on economic security. It is an innovation network for national, state and local leaders promoting economic security that:

  • Builds public will for more inclusive public policies and practices;
  • Uses an age, gender and/or race lens in their research, advocacy or services;
  • Connects with local organizations and communities;
  • Devises or uses improved economic security indicators to track family and/or community economic security.

Read more about Metrics Matter here.